The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the establishment of a gaming regulator with some US industry veterans, including former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren at the helm. Murren was CEO from December 2008 to February 2020. Murren will take a leadership role as the Board of Directors Chairman for the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA).
In a press release, the state-run news agency WAM announced that GCGRA will be responsible for establishing a national lottery and commercial gaming. WAM described the goal of GCGRA as:
The GCGRA will create a socially responsible and well-regulated gaming environment, ensuring that all participants adhere to strict guidelines and comply with the highest standards. It will coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing nationally, and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly.
Establishing a regulatory agency indicates that the UAE is looking to legalize gambling in some form. In recent years, rumors have increased that the country might look into casinos to boost tourism.
Naming Murren as chairman of the board of directors comes as no surprise. He partnered with UAE companies several times during his tenure with MGM.
MGM itself, while still very much an American casino brand, has also been looking abroad. Its acquisition of LeoVegas gave it an international online casino presence, and it’s now making a second attempt to introduce its own online casino brand to the UK.
Murren Already Has a Relationship With the UAE
During Murren’s leadership, MGM and UAE government-owned investment firm Dubai World partnered to build Las Vegas’ ARIA Campus, formerly CityCenter. The $9.2 billion project is the most extensive development on the Vegas Strip and one of the biggest private developments in the US.
In 2017, MGM announced a non-gaming resort in Dubai featuring the MGM and Bellagio brand names. MGM’s partner in the project is the UAE semi-government-owned Wasl Asset Management Group. Initially set to open in 2021, the resort is now scheduled for a 2026 opening. Given the possibility of establishing gambling in the country, plans for the resort might change.
The relationship doesn’t end there. After Murren left MGM in 2020 to lead Nevada’s COVID-19 response task force, he tried to pitch the state UAE-donated test kits worth $20 million. However, the US government warned Nevada not to use the Chinese-made kits over privacy concerns.
US Industry Veteran Kevin Mullally Named CEO
In addition to Muren, GCGRA has named Kevin Mullally as CEO. According to the press release, the new CEO brings over 30 years of national and international gaming regulation experience. Before joining GCGRA, Mullally served as VP of Government Relations and General Counsel for Gaming Laboratories International (GLI). GLI is an independent company that tests, audits, and certifies gaming equipment.
Before GLI, Mullally was Executive Director of the Missouri Gaming Commission. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the International Association of Gaming Advisors.
Murren shared excitement about Mullally’s appointment. He expressed confidence that the new CEO will bring “invaluable” regulatory experience to GCGRA and the UAE.
US Gaming Giants Establishing a Presence in the UAE
Creating GCGRA puts legal gambling one step closer to realization in the UAE. Several US gaming giants with current and future properties there could benefit significantly if that happens.
Caesars Entertainment has already opened a non-gaming resort in the country. The Caesars Palace Dubai opened in 2018. As mentioned, MGM plans to enter Dubai in 2026. Both will likely find ways to incorporate casinos into their properties.
In April, Wynn Resorts announced plans for the first gaming property in the UAE, fueling the belief that gambling will be legalized. The development will be located on the artificial Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah (about 75 miles east of Dubai) and is planned to open in 2027. Wynn will finance 40% of the $3.9 billion cost, with Ras Al Khaimah government partners financing the rest.